The Tucson Unified School District is strengthening its internal controls for procuring consultant services in an effort it says will avoid the appearance of wrongdoing.
The change — prompted by an Arizona Daily Star investigation of the awarding of a $92,500 contract to an acquaintance of TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez — was approved by the Governing Board 3-2 Tuesday.
Though Sanchez has characterized the Star’s reporting as inaccurate and misleading, he asked TUSD’s staff to come up with “safeguards” to reduce the likelihood of anyone else having the kind of scrutiny the contract awarding attracted.
An internal review of the procurement process for the district’s strategic planning effort found no violations of law, but it noted that the district’s practices were the legal “floor.” The recommendations made Tuesday are intended to put the district above minimum expectations, Sanchez said.
“My whole thing is, this time it was all fixated on me, and next time it might be another member of the leadership team that’s put in the spotlight, and they and their family and friends and the team they work with are all under this same scrutiny,” Sanchez said. “I don’t want anybody to have to go through all of that. … I don’t think that’s right.”
The safeguards will include implementing a “consultant services acquisition process” that would spell out the necessary steps to be taken to procure services.
The process would require a clearly defined scope of work; a screening of current district vendors that might be able to do the work; if a contracted vendor is not available, the written quote process will require at least two written quotes with proposed costs and no more than one “no quote” would be allowed; the use of a broader vendor database in seeking vendors; and a declaration-of-objectivity form to be completed by the staff.
Measures could also be put in place in which the district leadership reports to the Governing Board on a periodic basis on procurement consultant services at a predetermined dollar amount.
Sanchez maintains there was no conflict of interest in the award of a $92,500 purchase order to a company that is headed by a woman who is also listed as a reference on his résumé and has previously suggested he work for her firm as a consultant.
Governing Board members Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks voted against Sanchez’s recommendation on Tuesday.
Hicks’ focus was on revising the threshold for when consultant contracts come before the board. He suggested lowering the threshold from $100,000 to $50,000. That would return the threshold to the maximum contract amount that required board approval before TUSD voted to raise it in December at Sanchez’s recommendation.
The TUSD staff did not recommend that the threshold be lowered, instead offering up the new safeguards, which will be written into the policy’s regulation.